Review: The Spindlers

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The SpindlersThe Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on October 2, 2012
Genres: Adventure, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Horror
Pages: 246
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central

Evocative of Alice in Wonderland, this novel from New York Timesbestselling author Lauren Oliver is a bewitching story about the reaches of loyalty and the enduring power of hope.

Looking across the breakfast table one morning, twelve-year-old Liza feels dread wash over her. Although her younger brother, Patrick, appears the same, Liza knows that he is actually quite different. She is certain that the spindlers—evil, spiderlike beings—came during the night and stole his soul. And Liza is also certain that she is the only one who can rescue him.

Armed with little more than her wits and a huge talking rat for a guide, Liza descends into the dark and ominous underground to save Patrick's soul. Her quest is far from easy: she must brave tree-snakes, the Court of Stones, and shape-shifting scawgs before facing her greatest challenge in the spindlers' lair, where more than just Patrick's soul is at stake.

First Sentence: “One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing  and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.”

Lauren Oliver debuted in 2010 with Before I Fall, and The Spindlers is her fifth published work, not counting novellas. Her sixth, Requiem, the conclusion to the Delirium trilogy comes out early next year. Simply put, she has blasted into popularity, prolific and talented, to become one of the most loved and admired YA/MG authors. Of the three books of hers I’ve read, The Spindlers was my least favorite, but still contained some of the wonderful bits that make Oliver’s work such a joy to devour.

In The Spindlers, Lauren Oliver tackles a pretty standard fairy tale plot: the child whose sibling has been replaced with a changeling and the resulting quest bent on rescue. Liza wakes up to find her brother not himself. He looks the same and he has a lot of the same behaviors, but he is both too nice (perfect table manners and politeness) and too mean (spelling out ‘I HATE YOU’ to his sister in his alphabet cereal). Liza immediately knows what has happened to him: the Spindlers, spider creatures, have taken his soul, and, should it not be replaced soon, the shell of his body will turn into dust.

As is common in middle grade books, only Liza can save her brother from this tragic fate. Her parents refuse to believe her assertions that something is wrong with Patrick and tell her to grow up, now too old for stories. Unwilling to allow her brother to die, Liza determines to go look for him herself, so she goes down to the basement and into the crawl space. Once there, she falls into a deep hole.

It turns out the crawl space in her house connects to the Below, a world populated by the magical creatures her favorite babysitter, Anna, always told her about. She immediately gains a companion in the form of Mirabella, a rat who imitates humans. Mirabella also happens to be in possession of a number of articles stolen from her family. I’m glad to know that all of the things I can’t find were not in fact lost through my carelessness but swiped by troglods.

Mirabella creeps me out a lot. Now, it’s not because she’s a rat. I know rats can be alright. One of my best friends in college had three rats senior year, and they were friendly creatures. Mirabella, though, sounds every kind of unpleasant. For one thing, she’s person-sized. She wears clothing and a matted wig. She smells like a sewer, but covers her face in powder and mascara in an attempt to meet human standards of beauty. Basically, she will probably haunt the dreams of some. Call me vain, but I could not get past my immense distaste for Mirabella.

Liza’s journey reminded me of any number of books. There was little I found especially original about this tale, except for the nocturni, which were really cool. Otherwise, the monsters, while new to me in name, fit classic molds. Still, I suspect the array of creatures will delight and terrify younger readers as they are intended to do. What Lauren Oliver brings to the story is her way with words. She has a glorious way of writing, one that I think will hold a lot of appeal for children, who also often like stories to follow familiar paths more than I do.

For fans of books like Gregor the Overlander or Coraline, The Spindlers will be a delight.

Favorite Quote:

“That was what her parents did not understand—and had never understood—about stories. Liza told herself storied as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories.”

12 responses to “Review: The Spindlers”

  1. Great review. I totally agree with you, The Spindlers was really good, but just not my favorite Oliver book. I’m partial to Lisel and Po. I picke the Nocurni as my favorite creatures, too. I didn’t mind the rat Mirabella as much as you, but I still didn’t whole-heartedly trust her.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve heard that Liesl and Po was much better, and I do plan to read that one at some point for sure! The Nocturni were very cool.

      Really? Mirabella just squicked me out!

  2. Audra says:

    Hm, too bad — was curious about this but don’t read much MG fiction — and while this sounds interesting enough, I don’t feel grabbed to get it. The cover is cute, though!

  3. This one sounds like something I need to pick up for the school library. I think the kids would enjoy it.

  4. Mirabella sounds GROSS! Ah! It’s too bad this one wasn’t a bit more original. I loved Before I Fall, Delirium, and Pandemonium but I haven’t read any of her MG books. After this review I will probably start with Liesl & Po, not this one. Great review!

  5. I just got this book from a friend last week to read with my 9 year old. I’m reading it purely for Oliver’s language (which I can see from your excerpt is just as good as ever:)

    I’m a bit worried about the large rat with the pretty name, however. I kind of have a thing about animals dressed in clothes. It doesn’t always bother me in kids books, but like those dressed up weimaraners in artist William Wegman’s stuff? Yeah. They totally freak me out.

    Enjoyed your review:)

    • Christina says:

      Her language is still lovely, and that’s what kept the rating at a 3. Otherwise it was mostly meh for me, sadly.

      Mirabella is awful. I don’t think you’re going to like that at all.

  6. I’m just a big Lauren Oliver fan and loved all of her books, but re: the rat, dude, hell no. Just no. Like, rats scare the heck out of me.

    That stated, I will still read and buy this book some day, just not immediately.

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I certainly don’t want to talk people out of reading it, but to go in with their eyes open to not expect it to be as mind-blowing as some of her other books.

      The rat really bothers me. And I usually love anthropomorphized animals.

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